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In two of my works on Southern Unionism, Unruly Women (1992), and Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010), I wrote extensively about the effects of the anti-slavery Wesleyan Methodist movement in creating an environment of fierce anti-Confederate sentiment in the Randolph-Montgomery County area of North Carolina during the Civil War. In Montgomery County, several Wesleyan families’ refusal to support the Confederacy tragically resulted in the vigilante  murder of three Hulin brothers by home guard soldiers.

The Hulins, Moores, and Hurleys became Wesleyans a full decade before the Civil War and were anti-slavery activists. A year before the war erupted, in March 1860,  Hiram Hulin, Jesse Hulin, Nelson Hulin (sons of Hiram), William Hurley Sr., William Hurley Jr., and Spencer Moore (son of Valentine Moore) were charged alongside Daniel Wilson, a well-known anti-slavery leader from Guilford County,  with circulating “seditious” anti-slavery materials.

Although I relied principally on court records, military records, newspapers, and memoirs to tell the story of Unionism in this region of North Carolina, I found two Wesleyan Methodist publications, Roy S. Nicholson’s Wesleyan Methodism in the South (1933), and Mrs. E.W. Crooks’ Life of Rev. Adam Crooks (1875), crucial to my ability to confirm the religious conversions of the above Montgomery County families.

In the following essay, I draw from both these works. As “in house” publications, they reflect the perspective of the Wesleyan Movement, yet, in combination with primary sources, they leave no doubt of the religious ideology that led the Hulins, Moores,  Hurleys, and others to oppose slavery and the Confederate Cause.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Southerners Against Slavery: Wesleyan Methodists in Montgomery County, North Carolina

Rev. Adam Crooks (1824-1874)

The man most responsible for bringing Wesleyan Methodism to the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina was Rev. Adam Crooks, who was originally from Leesville, Carroll County, Ohio, where he was born in 1824. According to Crooks’ biographer, his wife Elizabeth Willits Crooks, in 1841 he joined those northern Methodists who split from the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery. The following year, in December 1842, the splinter group produced a newspaper, the True Wesleyan, which heralded the establishment of Wesleyan Methodism in the United States. These Wesleyans claimed to embody the doctrinal standards of early Methodism as established under the guidance of Rev. John Wesley.  They opposed worldly habits such as the use of whiskey and tobacco and ostentatious dress and adornment. Most important to the history of Montgomery County, they opposed the ownership of human beings by other human beings.

Opposition to slavery, and specifically to the degrading and violent means by which it was maintained, was not limited to Methodists of the North. In 1847, during its Allegheny Conference in Mesopotamia, Ohio, the Wesleyan Church received an urgent letter from “Free Methodists” of Guilford County, North Carolina, who requested the services of a Wesleyan preacher. In this old Quaker stronghold of the South, anti-slavery principles had never completely died. “There is much more anti-slavery sentiment in this part of North Carolina than I had supposed,” Crooks later observed, “owing, in great measure, to the influence of the Society of Friends.” During his stay in North Carolina, he was amused to be “taken for a Quaker, go wherever I will,” even once after preaching in a Methodist Episcopal house. Crooks concluded that this assumption reflected the antislavery doctrine he preached and the “plain coat” that he wore.

The call from North Carolina had great appeal to Crooks. By age twenty, he had become a Wesleyan exhorter who preached against the evils of slavery.  In August 1845, he joined the Allegheny Conference as a junior preacher, and received a six-week assignment to the Erie circuit, where he ministered to a small Erie City church comprised of many fugitive slaves. Now, he agreed to travel to North Carolina. With the sectional crisis over slavery growing fiercer by the day, it took a great deal of courage to enter the slaveholding South with the express purpose of preaching against slavery. In preparation for his mission he was ordained an Elder.

Crooks encountered many Methodists in North Carolina who resented being forced to remain with the Methodist Episcopal Church in the wake of its national division into pro- and anti-slavery denominations. Finding it ”impracticable” to join the anti-slavery Northern Division of the church, they formed a third division, the “Free Methodist Church.” According to Crooks, “up to this time, they had no knowledge of the existence of the Wesleyan Methodist connection.” Once they learned of the Wesleyan persuasion, he said, they immediately sent for preachers, convened, and adopted the Wesleyan principles as their own.

Pro-slavery North Carolinians labeled Crooks a “nigger-thief,” an abolitionist, and an advocate of racial amalgamation (race mixing). Nevertheless, he preached before large and small congregations and regularly denounced slavery in the presence of slaveholders. In October, 1847, Crooks presided over the founding of Freedom’s Hill Church, located in the old Snow Camp community of present-day Alamance County, N.C., and the first Wesleyan Methodist Church in the South.

In 1850, despite violent opposition to Wesleyan preachers by pro-slavery mobs, Crooks prepared to preach in Montgomery County at the invitation of members of Lane’s Chapel and Lovejoy Chapel.  Twice, he was warned by letter to cancel those plans. The first letter, signed by “Many Citizens” from Montgomery and neighboring Stanly Counties, accused Crooks of

preying upon the minds of the weak and innocent, inducing them to believe that slave-holding is not only an oppression to the slaves, but to all those who do not hold slaves. The slaves hereabout are in much better condition than their masters or other citizens. Your doctrine, if carried out, would bring down vengeance upon the heads of your followers by amalgamation and otherwise.

Crooks was accused of being “worse than a traitor,” and threatened with expulsion if he dared to appear in Lane’s Chapel: “we are in hopes you will return from whence you came, or you will be dealt with according to the dictates of our consciences.”

A second letter from Montgomery County, dated 27 December 1850 and signed by eleven people, demanded again that Crooks leave the state. Crooks did not answer the letter, but traveled to Montgomery County as planned, where he stayed at the home of Valentine Moore and prepared, in February 1851, to preach at Lovejoy Chapel, located about a mile from Moore’s home.

A mob headed by a local justice of the peace and slaveholder met Crooks at the door of Lovejoy Chapel. Alluding to the Methodists’ national schism over slavery, the j.p. accused Crooks of “making interruptions in families, neighborhoods, and Churches” by preaching against slavery. He claimed that Crooks was “causing us to abuse our servants,” i.e. slaves, by telling them they deserved to be free, which “makes them unruly; so that they have to be abused.” Again, Crooks was ordered to leave the county.

Several other local slaveholders challenged Crooks as well. “Brother Crooks did you not preach to servants not to obey their masters?”  Crooks answered that he had not, but his accuser insisted that he had. Hiram Hulin then interceded on Crooks’ behalf. “Don’t you interrupt the man,” he told the slaveholder, who responded by shaking his fist and stamping the floor, declaring that he was on his own “premises.”  Hiram’s brother, Orrin Hulin, then called for order, reminding the men that they had entered the chapel to worship God.

Those opposed to Crooks’ right to preach moved to expel him from the chapel. They declared Crooks a traitor, no better than Aaron Burr,  sent to Montgomery County by anti-slavery radicals such as Daniel Wilson of Guilford County.  Likewise, Orrin Hulin was condemned for having written a letter to the True Wesleyan that described a Montgomery County slaveholder’s brutal torture and whipping of slave.

Then, the anti-Crooks faction rose to forcibly remove Crooks from Lovejoy Chapel, at which point Orrin Hulin cried out,

Men, take notice of who takes hold of that man by violence.

As the mob approached Crooks, William Hurley stepped before it and called out,

But stop, don’t you run over me. What are you going to do with the preacher?

According to author Elizabeth Crooks, chaos followed, as Crooks was

led or rather dragged from the pulpit into the yard. . . . Some are rushing for their horses, others are screaming, and still others prostrated, motionless and speechless.

Mrs. Crooks further described how several men forced Crooks into a buggy as Orrin Hulin once again called on Crooks’ supporters to “take notice of who forces that man into that buggy.” Several of Crooks’ supporters followed the buggy on foot to the home of one of the slaveholders. There, over dinner, pro- and anti-slavery factions, including Crooks, argued over slavery. Sheriff Aaron Sanders, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and part of the mob that accosted Crooks, was present. So also was William Hurley, Crooks’ defender, who proclaimed himself  “ever opposed” to slavery.

“Well, if you believe slavery to be wrong, you need not hold them; it does not hurt you,” a slaveholder challenged.

Hurley answered, not as an abolitionist, but as a citizen who defended his right to belong to an anti-slavery church:

Well, but for me to support a thing I do not believe in would not be right. And you can have your privileges and let us have ours.

When asked if his church, which refused membership to slaveholders, might yet receive a slave, Hurley said “yes”, provided the slave was a Christian. Those words provoked this angry response from an unnamed slaveholder:

What!—receive a nigger and not a white man? That is a grand insult depriving us of our rights.

“Not at all,” maintained Hurley. “We do not say that you shall not hold slaves; all we want is to keep clear of supporting it.”

“Well, if that is your principle you ought to leave the state,” advised the same man, advice to which Hurley strenuously objected:

I was born and raised here—pay for my privileges under the law, and it is a hard case if I am to be deprived of them.

As the argument heated up, another slaveholder advised the mob to “serve him [Hurley] as we do Crooks.” But William Hurley appeared to be forgotten after four magistrates ordered Sheriff Sanders to deliver Adam Crooks to the jail.

After being locked up, Crooks was lectured by his captors on the need to abandon his plan to preach in Montgomery County. Exhibiting the common social superiority that slaveholders felt toward nonslaveholders, they assured Crooks that the folks who had invited him to speak (members from the Moore, Hulin, and Hurley families) were the “very dregs of the county,” while “those who are against you,” (slaveholders), “are the best men of the county.”

Finally and reluctantly, Adam Crooks agreed to leave Montgomery County and was accordingly released from jail. He then returned to the home of Valentine Moore to say his goodbyes. While there, he reported, Valentine’s daughter Caroline (who would soon marry Hiram Hulin’s son, Jesse) announced to Crooks that she was leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church and joining with the Wesleyans.

Caroline Moore Hulin

Slaveholders had prevented Adam Crooks from preaching in their county, but they had failed to prevent the successful birth of Wesleyan Methodism in their community. Battle lines would be redrawn during the Civil War, in a brutal inner war that would pit the same Sheriff Aaron Sanders against the same community of dissenters.

Vikki Bynum

For more on Adam Crooks and Southern Wesleyan Methodism, see:

  1. Roy S. Nicholson, Wesleyan Methodism in the South (Syracuse, NY: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, 1933).
  2. Mrs. E.W. Crooks, Life of Rev. Adam Crooks, A.M. (Syracuse, NY: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, 1875). A copy of this book is owned by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and may be accessed online at UNC’s Documenting the American South.  http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/crooks/crooks.html.
  3. An independent film company has recently produced the story of Adam Crooks. See The Courageous Love, Rubacam Productions,  http://www.thecourageouslove.com/home/About.html

Guest columnist Gary B. Sanders, who is kin to the Sanders family of Montgomery and Randolph Counties of North Carolina, has ancestors on both sides of the U.S./Confederate divide.  Here, Gary tells the story of his great, great, grand uncle, Joseph Sanders of Jackson County, Alabama, who was murdered during the Civil War on account of his Unionist views.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Confederate-Unionist Conflict in Jackson County, Alabama: The Murder of “Uncle Joe” Sanders, 1863

By Gary B. Sanders

Jackson County, Alabama, lies in the northeast Alabama hill country, near the Tennessee border, a region of yeoman farmers who were only reluctantly persuaded to join the Confederacy in 1861. As the war progressed and the fortunes of the Confederacy waned, there was a breakdown in social control in such counties, often leading to guerrilla warfare, revenge killings, and general lawlessness. The story of the murder of the elderly Joseph Sanders on April 10, 1863 on his own farm in Jackson County was one such incident, briefly mentioned in newspapers of the time but long remembered by Joseph’s descendants as they passed down the family tradition of their ancestor who died a martyr to his loyalty to the Union. As always with such stories, embellishments along the way and varying renditions of the event may not reflect what actually happened. A closer look at the life and death of Joseph Sanders, however, may help us understand the disrupting impact of the Civil War on life in Jackson County.

Jackson Co., Alabama

Scene from Jackson County, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Joseph Sanders was born in 1793, in Randolph County, North Carolina, the son of Joseph and Rebecca Sanders. The elder Joseph, a Revolutionary War patriot, died in 1803 and made provision in his will that if any of his children became orphaned before they came or age or were married that they should be apprenticed to Quakers. This provision of the will never took effect, as all the children were married within six years of their father’s death. Five of senior Joseph’s seven children married children or grandchildren of Isaac Saunders of Randolph County, who, according to DNA tests of his descendants, was not related to Joseph at all. This close relationship between these two unrelated Sanders lines has baffled genealogical researchers among their descendants, but it helped to cement family ties and loyalties whenever descendants of Isaac and Joseph moved from North Carolina.

The younger Joseph was the last of his siblings to marry when he wed Martha Sanders on August 21, 1809 in Randolph County. In the late 1820s, Joseph and Martha, their large family of children, and many of their relatives moved to Jackson County, Alabama. As the Cherokee and other Indian groups were pushed further west, the northeast Alabama region along the Tennessee River became a prime destination for white settlement. Joseph bought land in Jackson County in 1831 and farmed there the rest of his life. Many of his Sanders cousins also moved to Jackson County as did his brother George and his brothers-in-law Francis Sanders and Benjamin Sanders, along with their numerous families.

During the late 1830s, Martha died, and Joseph began seeking a new wife. He re-married about 1838 to Deborah Saunders who was another granddaughter of Isaac Saunders of Randolph County. One of the descendants of Joseph’s second marriage, Lottie Kingery Hoge, later wrote of Deborah,

I don’t know how she first got acquainted with my Alabama grandfather, Mr. Joseph Sanders, but she went to Alabama and they were married. He was much older than her for he had been married before and had 12 children, most of them grown and married, probably at ages of 14-16. I don’t know when they [Joseph and Deborah] were married but probably about 1838 for their oldest son was born about 1840. That was Uncle Henry.

Joseph and Deborah had three children together before she died about 1854. Joseph married for the third time on November 11, 1860 to a widow, Mahala Harper Shelton of Jackson County. The 1860 census list Joseph as age sixty seven with personal property worth $1500 and real estate worth $1500. While he was not a wealthy man, these assets were enough to indicate his farm was prosperous by the standards of the time. Joseph Sanders, by 1860, was the acknowledged patriarch of the Jackson County Sanders. Nearly everyone called him “Uncle Joe,” regardless of whether he was actually an uncle, cousin, granduncle, or some other relative. In fact, nearly every Sanders in the county was related to him, in some cases as double cousins.

When the Civil War began, the citizens of Jackson County were split far more evenly in loyalty than in most southern counties. There were few large slave owners in the county and many residents were subsistence farmers who had little regard for the institution of slavery. In 1850 only one man named Sanders in the county owned slaves. Nevertheless, there was still substantial support for the Confederacy, and those who refused to accept secession were regarded as traitors by those who supported the Rebel cause. Although too old to serve as a soldier, Joseph Sanders remained loyal to the national government and his sons and many of his nephews and grand nephews joined the Union Army.

The conflicting loyalties in northeast Alabama created a very chaotic and lawless situation in which it is often difficult to determine the motivations of the people involved. Confederate and Union armies moved back and forth across the county, as did bands of deserters, often with no loyalty to either side. Murders, shootings, and acts of violence were commonplace toward the end of the war. “Uncle Joe” Sanders was killed in one of these incidents in 1863 while at his farm at Mud Creek.

The following letter by Louie Richard Davis of Texas was written to friends in Scottsboro, Alabama, July 24, 1974, and was published in Sanders Siftings, July 2000, p. 1:

I know you have some information on the Sanders that was killed by bushwhackers. I have heard a story here in Texas passed down through generations (may have changed some). One of the Sanders, close relation to Phoebe was caught off guard while plowing in a field by bushwhackers. They took him and his horse to the top of a hill and made the Sanders dig a grave. Then the bushwhackers killed both man and horse and buried both in the grave with the legs of the horse sticking up out of the grave. This is some tale and may not be exactly true but is what I have heard.  [This Phoebe was the daughter of Joseph’s sister Mary and her husband Benjamin Sanders. Louis Davis was a descendant of Phoebe.-gs]

Other accounts of the killing differ somewhat in the details. A second version was e-mailed to me in 2007 by Bob Dean, a descendant of Rebecca Sanders, Joseph’s niece:

Mud Creek is located north of Scottsboro, and there is a cave there, the one that we have always known as Blowing Cave. Joseph Sanders patented 80 acres of land in 1831 that contained this cave. I will tell you the story told [to] me as close as I can remember it.  It is not exactly like the story that we have heard before but close.

Bob’s informant, John Dolberry, owned the Mud Creek property that belonged to Joseph Sanders and he remembered listening to his grandmother talk about the murder many times when he was a child. His grandmother was the daughter of John Sanders, a son of Mary Sanders, Joseph’s sister, and her husband Benjamin Sanders. In his conversation with Bob Dean, John Dolberry pointed to the cove behind the house and said they hanged Joseph

back in the cove at the foot of the mountain on a big mulberry tree. It had a big limb that ran out and then turned up. His grandmother said that was the limb that they hung Joseph on. He was hanged by southerners who thought he was giving help to the Yankees. There were three of the rebels, one a neighbor by the name of Barbee. After killing him they left with a horse they were using as a pack mule to carry, I suppose, the things that they had taken. After they killed Joseph, they left, leading their horse. That evening, not long after the rebels left, a group of Yankees came down out of the mountain and went after the rebels. They caught up with them near the foot of the mountain close to the old Moody Brick. The Yankees killed the horse and made the men dig a grave for it. When the grave was dug, they killed the men, put them in the hole and rolled the horse in on top of them. This could be the story of putting Joseph in the grave with the horse on top of him and the horse with its legs sticking up.

They [Joseph’s family] buried Uncle Joe and there were four cedar posts put at the corners of his grave. These were moved after somebody in Texas had the marker put in. [This grave marker was erected in the 1990s.-gs]. The mulberry tree was there for a long time; it had a limb that stuck out and turned up. That was the limb upon which they hanged Uncle Joe.

His [great] grandmother sat over there with the body until someone came to help get him to the house.  So, apparently he was not killed where he was buried. But the fact that he was buried there would seem to indicate that he lived there.

Bob concludes, “It may be as close to eyewitness information as we can get even though his information did not come directly from someone that was there. It did come in a direct line from someone that was a witness to the events.  I’m sure that the story is not without flaws, mistakes, and bad memory but may be as close to the truth as we’ll ever get.”

More detail about the identity of the men who killed Joseph Sanders is found in a January 27, 2004 posting on the Sanders Ancestry.com forum by Don E. Schaefer, editor of Sanders Siftings, and a descendant of Benjamin Sanders who married Joseph Sanders’ sister Mary:

Here is some information about the Joseph Sanders (1793-1863) often referred to as Joseph, Jr.:
Concerning the murder of Joseph Sanders, this is what I have picked up from several sources. From notes in the Scottsboro library: “Joseph Sanders was taken from his home during the Civil War and was shot while on his knees by a rock because his boys were in the Union Army. Everyone called him Uncle Joe. He was shot by Jeff Barbee, Thomps Houston, and John Teeters on his farm near Mud Creek, these men were tories never served on either side during the Civil War.”  Ann Barbee Chambless of Scottsboro told me that she has been searching for the real story of what happened. A brother of her great-grandfather was one of the “whippersnappers” and she can find no record of a trial. Her ancestor had a record of an estate settlement about that time. Possibly some vigilante justice or Union troops took care of things, without leaving a record. With the lack of a trial or record, I guess many versions of what happened cropped up, slanted to whatever a person’s sympathies were during and after the war. Glenn (Chick) Sanders of Huntsville says that there was no marker for Joe Sanders and he and some other relatives had one put up on his grave. He also said he has been told that two of Joseph Sanders’ sons, Henry A. and John G., killed two of the men who murdered their father.

Don Schaefer’s account is based partly on the testimony of Carroll Jackson Brewer in 1876 to the Southern Claims Commission concerning the compensation claim of John Sanders, Joseph’s nephew: “James Hawkins and others searched for his uncle often and did take out him, J. Sanders who was seventy years old, they taken him out of the field when he was at work and shot him on the side of the mountain.” Carroll Jackson Brewer was married to John Sanders’ half-niece and therefore related by marriage to Joseph.

Don Schaefer also contributed some material he received from Ann Barbee Chambless who was related to one of the men who killed Joseph:

I keep hoping you will unearth the real story about the murder of Uncle Joe Sanders, even though my great grandfather’s brother was one of the three culprits. One of the older men in this county has told me the “hanging tree” still stands at the head of Mud Creek where justice was administered. I still do not know if it would be labeled “roadside justice” or as you suggested Federal troop intervention. I do know that a group of Federal troops stationed in this area took over the Barbee home for their winter quarters one year. My great-great uncle was a very young boy at the time. He lived until I was about six or seven years old, so I remember hearing him repeat stories from that time period. Of course, he never told about his brother being hung. His stories were about his father’s death just before the Civil War (died in 1860) and how another brother died of measles after enlisting in the CSA. That brother was buried at Corinth, MS. My own great grandfather was a CSA Scout and was in the Federal prison at Rock Island. Uncle Lewis told what a difficult winter he, his mother, and his older sisters had the winter they were forced to live in what had been slave quarters. That is one reason I have always been so interested in learning more about the murder of Uncle Joe Sanders and what happened to the culprits. If your Madison County contact provides you with any part of the story, please be sure to share with me.”  [From Ann Barbee Chambless, the Jackson County (Ala.) Historical Association].

Although John Dolberry’s family tradition was that Joseph was hanged, the only document contemporaneous with the murder, a brief newspaper article from the Huntsville Confederate for April 23, 1863, stated that Joseph was shot: “On the same day, we learn, an old man, named Saunders, who affiliated with the Abolition Army, when they occupied Jackson county, and went off with them, but returned to depredate on the neighborhood, was shot and killed by some unknown person, on Mud Creek in that county.”

Just as we do not know for certain whether Joseph Sanders was shot or hanged (or possibly both), we have no firm documentation on what happened to the men who killed Joseph Sanders. The family tradition from John Dolberry states that the killers were slain by federal troops shortly after the murder; another account mentioned by Don Schaefer is that “vigilante justice,” possibly by Joseph’s sons, took care of the killers. Whatever may have happened during the war as the aftermath to the incident, after the war the event lived on for the most part only in the tradition of the Sanders family and their relatives. There are no records of legal investigations and no suggestion of any enduring blood feuds. Probably, for whatever reason, the murderers did not live long after the killing.

The impact of the War, of course, endured for the rest of the lives of the participants. Joseph’s widow and her stepsons appear to have quarreled over his estate. In 1874, eleven years after his death, she was given as her dowry rights a one-quarter distribution from his estate.

Three of Joseph’s sons served in the Union Army and two of them were wounded at the Battle of Nashville. When Henry, one of the sons, returned home and discovered that his young wife was pregnant, he divorced her and had nothing to do with her or the baby. He married again and eventually had eight children. Joseph’s nephew, John Sanders, returned home after serving in an Ohio Regiment and later became a justice of the peace in Jackson County. In 1876 in testimony to the Southern Claims Commission,  John’s friend and relative by marriage, Carroll J. Brewer, stated that John had been a firm Union supporter even before the War:

I knew him about twenty-five years for all that time and live about three miles from him at Mainard cove, PO, Jackson county. I have heard him discuss that he could not sustain the secession principles…all of his talk with me was in the side of the union and he always voted in support… Claimant went into the Regular Federal Army and served nearly three years, and he caused nineteen men with him when he went.

The loyalty of the Sanders family of Jackson County to the Union probably had more to do with the unique political climate of the county rather than with any philosophy unique to this family. Close relatives of Joseph and his nephew John who lived outside the county often joined the Confederate Army. John Sanders himself recognized the influence of geographical location in his testimony to the Southern Claims Commission:

I have a brother said to be in the Confederate army. I did not see him [join?] Isaac Sanders, forty-four or five years of age on entering the Confederate army in Montgomery County, Arkansas. I have no influence on him. He lived in Arkansas when he joined the army. [He or I?] contributed nothing to his outfit. [He] would not of have been living here.

This may mean, possibly, that in John’s opinion Isaac would not have joined the Confederates if he had still been living in Jackson County.

In John’s testimony and in that of his neighbors, we can ascertain his intense national loyalty. We see much the same intensity in the affidavits filed in support of pension claims of the other Sanders men who fought for the Union or in testimony to the Southern Claims Commission concerning their claims for compensation for property losses during the war. With Joseph Sanders, however, the record is silent on any voiced expressions or writings he may have made in support of the Union cause. All we have as a record is his actions in encouraging his sons and neighbors to support the Union, efforts that ultimately led to his death.

John Dolberry, the descendant who still lived on Joseph Sanders’ farm as of 2007, stated that Joseph was not buried near the mulberry tree where he was killed. Instead, he was buried some distance away near where an infant child of Joseph and Deborah had been buried earlier. There may very well be other family members who are buried nearby, but no other markers are present today.

Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Originally four cedar posts were erected to mark Joseph’s grave. Later, in the early 1990s, someone erected a modern tombstone marker.  Unfortunately, the dates on the new tombstone are incorrect and the name is given as Joseph B. Sanders, although there are no records that give him a middle name or initial. His real birth and death dates are 1793 and March 10, 1863, according to census records and the testimony to the Southern Claims Commission of his friend Carroll Jackson Brewer.

Joseph Sanders gravestone, photo by Gary B. Sanders

The grave is located under a tree at the end of County Road 111 in Jackson County. Local people call this site “Dolberry Hollow.” My sister and I visited the resting place of our ancestor in 2007. Today, one sees only a pastoral view of thriving fields of corn and mountain scenery. It is difficult to imagine the strife that engulfed the area at the time of Joseph Sanders’ death.

Also located across the road is the “Blowing Cave,” which is something of a local tourist attraction. A strong breeze blows from the cave, hence the name by which it has been known since before the Civil War. In her book Sanders and Bean Families: Past and Present Virginia Retan describes the Blowing Cave as follows:

Mother Nature provided an air conditioner during the terribly hot season of summer, known as the Blowing Cave. The cave was named Blowing Cave because of the cool breeze that forever flowed from the entrance in the summer and the warm breeze which flowed in the cooler months. This cave was, and is today, quite an attraction.

Inside the cave, there are many rooms. People have used the Blowing Cave many times for shelter from tornadoes and other storms. Unfortunately, many of the rooms have been washed away by great gushes of water which are known to come unexpectedly from the cave. Some people say that the end of the cave comes out in Winchester, Tennessee. Some have said that they have traveled all through the cave and it took them three or four days to reach the other side.

Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Now (1986), many groups enjoy exploring the cave, with experienced guides, of course. Scouts enjoy staying overnight there, checking out the remaining rooms of the cave. The cave is now posted and people enter at their own risk. Young couples used to take walks there on Sunday afternoons; even now in 1986, it is said there is evidence of courtships of days long ago, in the names carved on trees or scraped in the rocks at the entrance of the cave.

Although the cave is no longer open to the public (as of 2007, the time of my visit), one can still stand about several yards away and get a good view of the cave opening, and sometimes even feel the cool breeze from the cave, just as Uncle Joe Sanders and his family and friends probably used to do on hot summer days before the Civil War.

–Gary B. Sanders

Great great-grand nephew of Joseph Sanders

December 2011

I first encountered the following letter from William D. Fitzgerald to President Lincoln on Brooks Simpson’s Crossroads post, “Black Confederates and White Southern Unionists,” and then again on the Southern Unionists page of Facebook. William Davidson Fitzgerald was born and raised in Nelson County, Virginia. By 1860, he and his family lived in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, where he taught school. I have found no evidence that he owned slaves. Fitzgerald’s letter to the President, written during his imprisonment at Castle Thunder, the Confederate prison in Richmond, was sent only weeks before his death on 27 July 1863.

Several parts of the letter stand out: first, Fitzgerald’s unequivocal belief that the destruction of slavery should be a prime object of the war, and, second, his advice to Lincoln to financially compensate slaveholders who supported the Union as a strategy for maintaining their support. Finally, Fitzgerald speaks forcefully to the question of why a Southern white man might support the U.S. government over the Confederacy. I have bolded the section of the letter I find most fascinating: that in which Fitzgerald offers a class analysis of white men’s loyalty to the Union and his reasoning for why so many non-slaveholders nonetheless joined the Confederate army. 

Vikki Bynum

From William Fitzgerald to Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1863

Castle Thunder

Richmond July 4 1863

As a Citizen of the United States I take the liberty of addressing you a short letter.

I am now, and for a considerable time have been incarcerated by the Enemies of our Country, in Castle Thunder, Richmond– Here I shall soon die; but before being consigned to my obscure grave, I desire as a Southern man to applaud and commend your efforts in the holy cause in-which you are engaged; not only of restoring the Union, but in rending the shackles of Slavery from millions of our fellow beings– Let me assure you that the prayers of thousands in the South ascend to heaven daily for your ultimate success, in the great work–

The heads of the wicked rebellion, and the public journals of the Country, would have the people of the North and of Europe believe, that the Southern people are unanimously in favor of a new government; but, Sir, a pretension more false was never promulgated– If the sense and will of the people, including the rank and file of the army, could be taken to-day, they would, by an overwhelming majority, declare in favor of the Union– Of the white population of the South more than two thirds of the adult males are non-slaveholders or poor– It is impossible for them to fraternize with such men as Jeff Davis, Yancey, Benjamin (Note 1), and their coadjutors– It would be unnatural for them to sympathize with this fratricidal rebellion, or revere an oligarchy founded on slavery, which the rebels leaders are seeking to establish– Slavery has been a curse of the poor white man of the south and he would be mad indeed to desire to perpetuate it– The wealthy planter has ever been the poor mans enemy and oppressor, and the latter would be too generous by half if he desired to increase his foes power over him– You may depend upon it that in general the rich of the South despise the poor, and the poor in return hate the rich–

True it is that the army of the Confederacy is composed principally of men non-Slaveholders but they are not in arms by their own volition.

True it is that at the beginning of the war war many volunteers from this class were raised; but they did not realize the fact that they were to fight against the United States, against the Union– We are a sensation people; and they were carried away by the excitement of the moment– The leaders induced them to believe they were merely going to repel another John-Brown raid– The deception then successfully practiced by the heartless traitors, enabled them afterwards to enforce the conscription, and now the people are powerless– But let the war for the Union be prosecuted, let your armies advance, and wherever they can promise security to the people you will find the masses loyal–

In conclusion I will venture a single suggestion on another point– It would be arrogance and folly in an humble individual like myself to presume to council the chief Magistrate of a great nation but having closely watched the progress of this war, and the policy of your administration, I may be pardoned for expressing the result of my observations, and a single suggestion–

Your Emancipation proclamation opened the grandest issue involved in this sanguinary struggle, and may prove the heaviest blow dealt the rebellion– But as I understand it, and as it is unwisely interpreted in the South, it frees all the Slaves within the territory to which it applies without offering any indemnity to loyal citizens– In this respect it is wanting– There are many loyal slaveholders in the South, and your proclamation has driven some, and will drive others over to the rebels– I know within my circle of acquaintances several with whom it has had this effect– In my own town two gentlemen, who before the proclamation were regarded as union men, and furnished substitutes to the rebels with great reluctance, immediately after the promulgation of the document, entered the Confederate service, one as a Colonel, and another as captain– Not only were these two men added to the rebel army, but the influence of their example was by no means insignificant–

Since then you can not desire the innocent to suffer for the misdeeds of the guilty, that the loyal should recieve — the wages of treason, let another proclamation be issued, promising loyal citizens of the South reasonable compensation for the slaves liberated, out of the confiscated property of the disloyal, and the two proclamations together will quickly prove, with assistance of the army now in the field, the heaviest blows, and the death blows of the rebellion–

Such is the belief of your dying, and,

Obedient Servant–

Wm Fitzgerald

Castle Thunder Prison, Cary St., Richmond, VA, 1865. Wikipedia file

For historians such as myself, finding the actual words of a white Southern Unionist is always exciting.  Fitzgerald’s contention that non-slaveholding whites “are not in arms by their own volition,” and that they were fooled by secessionists into fighting against their own government by exaggerated stories of impending raids by the likes of John Brown is an opinion that many disputed, then and now.

Yet Fitzgerald was not alone in that view. During the same year in which he wrote to Lincoln, John A. Beaman of North Carolina wrote his governor that “farmers and mechanics” were ready to “revolutionize” rather than fight a slaveholders’ war. Guerrilla leader Newt Knight echoed Beaman in 1892 when he expressed regret that Southern nonslaveholders did not launch a successful uprising against the slaveholders who had “tricked” them into fighting their war. (note 2).  In 1912, Madison Bush (who would be mayor of Laurel, Mississippi, by 1920) agreed with Newt, telling the Jones County D.A.R. that ordinary white men and boys had initially joined the Confederacy only because “they thought it was big to get the big guns on.” (note 3).

These are but a few of the pro-Union and anti-Confederate words uttered by Southern men and women, whites and blacks, that are buried in documents, memoirs, and letters throughout archives and attics of the South.  Many Southerners viewed support for the United States government as the true sign of patriotism and loyalty; many (including a good number of slaveholders) viewed secession as utter madness. 

Footnotes:

1. Here, Fitzgerald refers to William L. Yancey, prominent leader of the Southern secession movement and member of the Confederate Senate in 1862, and Judah P. Benjamin, former U. S. Senator from Louisiana who served as Confederate Attorney General, Secretary of War and Secretary of State.

2. Bynum, Long Shadow of the Civil War, pp. 15, 96

3. Bynum. Free State of Jones, p. 95

The original copy of William D. Fitzgerald’s letter is in the Lincoln Papers at the National Archives (Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916). For more on Fitzgerald, see Carman Cumming, Devil’s Game, The Civil War Intrigues of Charles A. Dunham; also Scribd.com, “New Details Emerge on the Life and Death of William D. Fitzgerald in the infamous Castle Thunder.”

My thanks to Marilyn Fitzgerald Marme, Fitzgerald’s ggg- granddaughter, for posting his letter online and allowing me to post it on Renegade South.

Vikki Bynum

Back in 1977, when I was a junior in college, history became a personal venture for me when an African American friend told me that his ancestors were from Virginia, but that he had always heard that they were not slaves. African Americans from Old Virginia who had never been slaves? That got my attention!

 A brand new history major, I decided on the spot to research my friend’s family history. Soon I was delving into microfilmed and published records from colonial Middlesex and Gloucester Counties of Virginia, where I did indeed find the ancestors of my friend—and many more—living as “free people of color” in colonial and antebellum Virginia. The following is their story.  

Vikki Bynum

During the transformative years of 1680-1730, as slavery overtook servitude as the favored system of labor among planters in the English colonies of America, a small but significant population of free people of color emerged in Virginia’s Gloucester and Middlesex Counties. We know very little about their individual lives beyond their names, racial designations, and ages as recorded in church and court records. We know, for example, that Elizabeth Morris, a servant of Middlesex County, was of mixed ancestry because the vestry book of Christ Church Parish described her in 1706 as “A Mulatto Woman.” (Note 1)

That same vestry book identified Elizabeth’s white master and mistress as “gentleman” Francis Weeks and his wife, Elizabeth. The Weeks family owned a number of slaves, raising questions about why Elizabeth was not also enslaved. Perhaps her mother was also a servant, or perhaps Elizabeth was the child of an enslaved woman and a white slave master who subsequently freed her.

Long before the rise of the cotton South in the post-Revolutionary United States, people of European, African, and Native American ancestry struggled against systems of bondage in the American colonies. In the first half of the seventeenth century, as tobacco profits flourished, settlers in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay region took advantage of England’s head-right system to build vast plantations. For every person that they brought to America–including those held in bondage–fifty acres of land was granted. Although servants were entitled to collect their fifty acres of “freedom dues” after fulfilling labor contracts, high death rates allowed many planters to add those acres to their own burgeoning estates.

The same high death rates made the purchase of slaves a risky venture; transporting servants was the safer investment. Thus, although not enslaved, many seventeenth-century whites entered the New World in bondage. By 1681, there were some 15,000 mostly-white indentured servants in Colonial Virginia, compared to some 3,000 African slaves. That would soon change, however. In 1676, Bacon’s Rebellion graphically revealed the potential for revolution among the servant class. As more and more servants lived long enough to press their claims for land, Virginia planters turned to slavery as a more controllable and profitable system of labor.

Map of Virginia highlighting Gloucester County

As slaves increased in number, so also did Virginia lawmakers’ efforts to construct a bi-racial society that clearly differentiated among people on the basis of their race as well as status. An Act of Assembly, enforced in 1715, directed that individuals of African ancestry be labeled as such. A clerk of the Abingdon Parish of Gloucester noted in that church’s records that “A list of negros [sic] born in the Parish” was now required by law. Before 1715, he explained, “negros” had been listed “promiscuously among the whites.”  (Note 2)

Abingdon Episcopal Church, White Marsh, Gloucester County, Donated by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

But even in this deliberately bi-racial society, a third category of race and status intruded: that of free person of color, with “color” often meaning light brown. Elizabeth Morris’s designation as a “Mulatto,” which technically meant half African, half European, should not be taken literally. Virginia officials used the term rather loosely; it might mean that an individual was born to a mixed-race couple, or simply that one or both parents were of mixed ancestry. Mainly, it meant that a person’s skin was lighter in tone than that of enslaved Africans being forced into the colony in ever greater numbers.

Elizabeth may have had connections to the white Morris family that was among the earliest to settle this region of Virginia. Thomas Morris was clerk of Gloucester County in 1657 and 1661, while Richard Morris was minister of Christ Church Parish upon its establishment in 1666. Another Morris, George, surveyed lands for building the parish.

The birth years of Elizabeth’s children make it likely that she herself was born between 1670 and 1690. During those years, Thomas Morris’s two sons, James and Thomas Jr., owned 670 acres of land that they inherited from their father. Any of the above men might have fathered Elizabeth, or once held her as a slave. Or, perhaps there was a daughter or sister who engaged in an interracial affair that resulted in her birth. (Note 3)

One thing is certain: Elizabeth is the earliest identified ancestor of the free Morrises of color from whom my friend descended. Whether or not she was ever enslaved, it’s also certain that this “Mulatto Woman” lived during a volatile period of early Virginia history. As English settlers struggled to dominate the New World, they discovered that white indentured servants, slaves, and Indians could be a dangerous mix. In 1663, more than a decade before Bacon’s Rebellion rocked the colony, an uprising known as the “Servants Plot” was narrowly averted in Gloucester County.

Servants Plot Marker

Betrayed from within by an indentured servant, the Servants’ Plot was brutally quashed. Literally, heads rolled, their bloody stumps posted atop chimneys in gruesome displays reminiscent of the Old World’s London Bridge. Yet again, in 1722, threats of insurrections by slaves and free people of color re-emerged in the region of Gloucester and Middlesex Counties. Rumors of uprisings ignited the fears of whites, who responded with passage of draconian laws.

In 1724, Virginia lawmakers decreed that “Negroes, mulattoes, and Indians, bond or free,” convicted of fomenting conspiracies or insurrections would “suffer death and be Utterly excluded the benefit of Clergy and all laws made concerning the same.” Unsupervised meetings were forbidden among all “Negroes or other slaves.” Slaves “notoriously guilty” of running away could be ordered by the court “to be punished by Dismembering Or any Other Way not touching Life.” (Note 4)

Land rich and labor poor, white masters, including several Morrises, rapidly replaced unruly servants with chattel slaves. Between 1770 and 1782, William Morris, white, of Petsworth Parish owned 99 acres and five slaves; in neighboring Mathews County, a William Morris, Sr., white, owned 343 ½ acres and ten slaves. (Note 5)

Rosewell Plantation Ruins, Gloucester Co. Built in 1725 for planter Mann Page, this mansion of Flemish bond brickwork was patterned after the elaborate London homes of the era.

As a result, Elizabeth Morris’s children and grandchildren would grow up in a world increasingly defined by slavery. Although they were not themselves slaves, neither were they fully free. For several generations, they or their children remained in a cycle of servitude.

Servants, like slaves, were forbidden by law to marry, which increased the number of illicit births among them. Elizabeth’s pregnancy violated the terms of her indenture contract and resulted in her children being born into servitude. Between courthouse and church, the new family was alternately blessed and condemned. On March 15, 1705/06, Christ Church baptized Elizabeth’s newborn son, James Morris, while the Middlesex county court ordered its sheriff to administer 25 lashes to Elizabeth’s bare back as punishment. A year later, the process was repeated. Her newborn daughter Winnefred, born May 9, 1707, was baptized by Christ Church, while the court once again ordered the mother whipped for giving birth out of wedlock.

And so it went. Like her children, Elizabeth’s grandchildren were indentured, beginning when daughter Winnie gave birth to her own daughter, Biddy, at age fifteen. A second daughter, Betty, was born in 1728, but died less than a year later. By 1742, Winnie had three sons: Francis, George, and James. (Two other children, Thomas, born 1843, and William, born 1845, were likely sons of Winnie’s older brother, James Morris.)

Five years before her death in 1745 at the age of thirty-seven, Winnie was identified in the records as a free woman. Still, her children remained in servitude. Sons George and James were ordered “bound out” by the courts after Virginia’s race-based laws required that all “Mulattos and Indians” be apprenticed, or bound, to a master until age 31, regardless of their mother’s status. This apprenticeship system was adopted widely throughout the South, although the ages of release were lowered to 21 for males and 18 for females during the nineteenth century.  Until after the Civil War, apprenticeship functioned as a system for socially and economically controlling free people of color. (Note 6)

As they “aged” their way into freedom, the Morrises intermarried with other free families of color—notably those with the surnames of Lockley, Driver, Lemon, Blufoot (Blueford), and  Thias—and built large families. By the late eighteenth century, members from these families were landowners. By 1799, “Mulattoes” James and Seth Morris together paid taxes on forty acres of land. By 1821, James was deceased, and Seth Morris was the sole owner of the forty acres. (Note 7)

During the same years, Virginia slaveholders pushed for greater restrictions on free people of color. In 1793, the state required that “free negroes or mulattoes” register their status with the town clerk. Failure to do so could result in imprisonment. In 1806, it forbade them the right to bear arms without a license (after the Nat Turner Rebellion  of 1831, the right even to obtain a license was denied). How, one wonders, did men feed their families without the ability to hunt animals? Even the major occupation of Gloucester free men of color—netting oysters—was compromised by restrictive laws. In 1811, the legislature passed a law stating that:

Any waterman of color found strolling from his boat may be whipped any number of lashes, not exceeding twenty, if he is not going directly to or from any spring for the purpose of getting water.  (Note 8)

And so, as the nineteenth century progressed, the Morrises endured the indignities that accompanied the antebellum South’s evolving caste system. In December 1822, the registration papers of “William Morris, a free tawney man, no. 44,” and “Deanna Morris, a free mulatto woman, no. 45,” were examined by the court, and “found to be truly made.” The couple had passed muster and could continue to live in the conditional freedom accorded people of their status. (Note 9)

William’s racial designation, “tawney,” indicated a skin tone lighter than that of a “Mulatto” or “black” person. In 1823, Betty Morris and Mary Morris were likewise described by the court as tawney, while Lucy Morriss and Warner Morris were described as Mulattoes. No matter how light their skin, however, the Morrises would never be considered “white”; at least, not as long as they remained in Gloucester County, where officials knew the family’s racially-mixed background.

The forced apprenticeship of free children of color continued until after the Civil War. In the years following the Nat Turner rebellion, however, there was much talk of removing all “free Negroes” from the commonwealth, in which case, contracts specified, the apprenticeship would be voided.  By 1838, however, that plan no longer appeared feasible, and the caveat was dropped. (Note 10)

After May, 1838, a typical apprenticeship contract was that of “free boy” Lewis Morris. In February, 1840, Lewis was ordered bound to Robert P. Russell “until he attains the age of 21 years to learn the art . . .  of a shoemaker. And it is ordered that he keep said boy until he is fifteen years of age free of charge and to pay thereafter $10 a year and furnish him with an extra suit of clothes the last year of his apprenticeship.” Russell would thus benefit for years from the free labor of Lewis, depriving his mother, Winney Morris, of both the labor and companionship of her child.  (Note 11)

Though rare, apprenticeship contracts were sometimes successfully challenged by parents. In March, 1840, just one month after her son Lewis was ordered apprenticed to Robert Russell, Winney Morris managed to have the contract rescinded “for reasons appearing to the court.” Unfortunately, the court did not identify those reasons.

Twenty years later, also on unspecified grounds, Lucy Morriss challenged the legality of her twelve-year-old son Phillip’s apprenticeship to Isaac Woodland. In November, 1860, the court summoned Woodland to appear in its chambers “to show cause if any he can why the indenture of the said apprentice should not be revoked & annulled.” The outcome of that suit is uncertain, but it may be that the sectional crisis between North and South had begun to disrupt local communities, making apprenticeship contracts harder to enforce. (Note 12)

We do know the outcome of a suit against Tom Morris, a “free boy of color.” Like many a servant boy before him, Tom played hooky from his master’s home. From August until October, 1860, Henry Rilee lodged accusations that Tom had “deserted the service of said master.” The court ordered the missing boy to appear at its December term to answer charges. Tom, however, did not show up in court–not in December, and not in January, 1861, either, when he was ordered again to appear. By 1861 the South’s secession from the Union loomed on the horizon, and lawmakers may have concluded they had far more to worry about than the whereabouts of one rebellious teenage boy. In a decision that surely must have pleased young Tom, the court dropped Rilee’s case and ordered Tom Morris’s apprenticeship “revoked and annulled.”

The Civil War and Reconstruction soon revolutionized the world of free people, slaveholders, and slaves. The existence of the slaveholding South’s free people of color, like that of its Southern Unionists, was forgotten by many people.  In modern-day Gloucester County, however, the history of  the Morris family’s distant ancestors survived in the long-held tradition that “we were never slaves.”

Victoria E. Bynum

Follow-up posts: January 15, 2013, “Nathan Crowell on Racial Identity: Free People of Color in Old Virginia revisited.”;

Wayne K. Driver, ” ‘Free Negroes’ and ‘Mulattoes’ in Gloucester County and the Tidewater Area of Virginia prior to 1800.”

NOTES:

1. C. G. Chamber, compiler, Vestry Book of Christ Church Parish, Middlesex County, VA, 1663-1767 (Richmond: Old Dominion Press, 1927), p. 58.  (Hereafter cited as Christ Church Parish.)

2. Abingdon Parish Register, Episcopal Church, Gloucester County, 1678-1761

3. Polly Cary Mason, Records of Colonial Gloucester County, Virginia, (Newport News, Va: George C. Mason, 1948) vol 1-2; Christ Church Parish, pp. 6, 9.

4. Christ Church Parish,  pp. 189, 190

5. Mason, Records of Colonial Gloucester County, vol 1.

6. Christ Church Parish, pp 58, 222, 245, 270. The information on the Morrises from Christ Church Parish records is available online in Paul Heinegg’s Free African Americans. 

7.  Gloucester County, VA, Land Tax books, 1782-1850 (microfilm)

8.  June Purcell Guild, Black Laws of Virginia (Negro Universities press, 1969), pp. 5. 19, 97.

9. Gloucester County, VA, Court Minutes, 1822-1825 (microfilm).

10. Ibid., 1834-1839.

11. Ibid., 1839-1842.

12. Ibid., 1858-1867.

James Richard Welch died on 6 September 1879 at the age of 62.  Like most of his Jones County contemporaries of modest means, he left no will.  Fortunately, his son-in-law Prentice M. Bynum was literate and, having once served as clerk in the Ellisville courthouse, knew a fair amount about the law.  Prentice petitioned the court to be appointed administrator of the estate.  As part of his duties, he compiled a list of all heirs. That list, which I’ll return to later, provides a useful vantage point from which to examine the political stances taken by ordinary families in Jones County, Mississippi, a county that gained notoriety during the Civil War for its rebellion against Confederate authority. 

 Early in the nineteenth century, Bryant Welch, the father of James Richard Welch, followed the same migration path to Mississippi Territory as did many other early Piney Woods settlers.  He left South Carolina and lived for several years in Georgia where, around 1817, James R. Welch was born.  The family’s first stop in Mississippi was in Wayne County.  Tax rolls reveal that Bryant next moved his family to the section of Covington County from which Jones County was formed in 1826.  For the rest of their lives, Bryant and his wife, Sabra “Sally” Martin, lived in Jones County, where they raised a family of nine children (see Note 1).

 Their son, James R. Welch, fit solidly within the mold of the yeoman herders who predominated in the central Piney Woods.  After marrying Mary Marzilla Valentine around 1836, he engaged in raising livestock and planting subsistence crops.  Fairly typical of their place and time, James and Mary produced children at a rate of one every two years—for a total of thirteen born between 1837 and 1862. 

 In 1860, James estimated the worth of his real estate at $1,000 and his personal estate at $1,165.  Typical of yeoman in that region, he did not own slaves.  But like most Southerners, the Civil War left him in greatly reduced circumstances.  In 1870, at age 53, he judged his land to be worth $466 and his personal affects at $875.  This might seem like a meager amount, but among the seventy-three households in Township 10 where James resided, only seven surpassed this total while eighteen reported no assets at all. 

 Following James’s death, Mary Welch received her allotted widow’s share of the estate, valued at $168, and a year’s worth of provisions.  The court then granted authority for a sale of the remaining property.  The sale failed to cover outstanding claims against the estate and administrative costs.  Nevertheless, Prentice Bynum submitted a second and more detailed list of heirs:

 W.M. Welch; Tabitha J. Walters; Elizabeth Jackson and James Jackson [her] husband; Geo. B. Welch; Joel Welch; Matilda Clark and John H. Clark, her husband; Virginia and B.T. Hinton, her husband [all of whom] reside in Jones County.  Martha Lard [Laird] and E.W. Lard her husband who reside in Smith County; Arsella Bynum and Mary M., James B. Bynum, minors who reside in Covington County; and James Collins and two other children… who are heirs to Ebaline Colins… and H.T. Collins (their) father… (who) reside in the State of Texas.

 A comparison of the Welch household census records from 1850 through 1870 with the court documents indicates that three children—Cynthia, J.E., and James—died childless prior to 1879.  The estate papers identified Frances Bynum as the deceased wife of Prentice Bynum and listed three children as her heirs.  Frances apparently died around 1876. 

 The identity of daughter “Ebaline Collins” is a bit more difficult to establish.  Like her sister Frances, she seems to have died prior to 1879, leaving several children as her heirs.  Best evidence suggests her full name was Samantha Eboline Welch.  The 1870 Jasper County census listed 19 year-old “Emaline Collins” in the household of H.T. Collins, age 21.  The couple had a one-year-old son named James.  By 1880, Harrison T. Collins had moved to Texas and remarried, all of which conforms to the information provided by Prentice Bynum. 

 Thus the estate papers of James R. Welch offer us the identities of six children who entered adulthood during and just after the Civil War—one son and five daughters.  The court documents also provide the names of the men whom these daughters married.  From this starting point, what does an examination of war records of the males within this group reveal?

 1)  Born on 1 November 1837, WILLIAM M. WELCH married Amanda Coats sometime before 1860.  Two years later, on 13 May 1862, following passage of the first Confederate conscription act, he enlisted with many of his fellow Jones Countians in Co F of the 7th Battalion MS Infantry.  But on the July-October 1862 muster roll he is listed as AWOL, suggesting he deserted before or just after the battles of Iuka and Corinth.  William’s name appears on Thomas Knight’s version of the Knight Band roster (as “W.M. Welch”).  He was also identified as one of the men captured by troops under command of Confederate Col. Robert Lowry on 25 April 1864 (see Note 2).  Col. Lowry’s men had been deployed to the Piney Woods region to suppress renegade activity.  Due to chronic manpower shortages in the Southern army, the men they arrested were simply forced to return to their unit which shortly thereafter was pressed into the defense of Atlanta. 

 The last major battle prior to the siege of Atlanta took place at Kennesaw Mountain, about 25 miles north of the city.  Situated behind a strong defensive line, the Confederate forces of Gen. Joseph Johnson scored a tactical victory over Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union troops.  However, on 3 July 1864, at least twenty-three men from the 7th Battalion became Union captives.  Of these, eleven can also be found on the Knight Band roster—including William Welch.  He was processed and assigned to Camp Douglas, Illinois, on 17 July 1864.  His muster records, as well as those of four other men belonging to Co F and sent to Camp Douglas, include the following comment:

 Claims to have been loyal, was forced to enlist in Rebel Army to avoid conscript, and deserted to avail himself of amnesty proclimation [sic] etc.

William M. Welch, prisoner of war

William Welch managed to survive the harsh conditions at Camp Douglas, although four of his fellow captives did not (see Note 3).  He was discharged on 16 May 1865 and returned to Jones County where he spent the rest of his life.  William’s wife Amanda died on 13 October 1895.  He died on 24 September 1908.  Both are buried in Union Line cemetery.

2)  TABITHA J. WELCH was born on 19 April 1840.  Union pension files document that she married JOEL W. WALTERS on 26 Sep 1860, shortly after he was granted a divorce from his first wife.  On 13 May 1862 a “J.W. Walters” enrolled in the 7th Battalion, Co F.  It is unclear if this was Joel W. Walters, but the soldier was AWOL as of the January-February 1863 muster roll and never returned. 

What is clear is that Joel W. Walters enlisted in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry on 25 March 1864.  He earned promotions to corporal and then to sergeant.  A month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Joel deserted and returned home.  He died of tuberculosis on 28 July 1868.  Tabitha raised their three surviving children and never re-married.  In 1885 changes in the pension laws permitted the desertion charge against Joel to be removed and the next year Tabitha was approved for a pension, effective from the date of her husband’s death.  Tabitha died on 23 November 1924.

Tabitha/Tobitha J. Welch Walters, Antioch Methodist Church, Jones County, MS. Author's photograph

 3)  MARY ELIZABETH WELCH was born around 1842.  She married JAMES EULIN (aka Yulin / Youlin) shortly before the 1860 census.  Little is known about Eulin’s family background.  A James Youlin, possibly his father, can be found on the 1840 census of Scott County.  The 1850 census listed 10 year-old James Eulin in the family of Abraham Laird, residing in Smith County.  By 1860 the Laird family had moved to Jones County where James Eulin apparently met and wed nearby neighbor Mary Elizabeth Welch.

On 13 May 1862, James also enrolled in Co F of the 7th Battalion.  Like his brother-in-law William Welch, James Eulin appeared as AWOL on the July-October 1863 muster roll.  And his name also appears on the Knight Band roster (as “James Ewlin”).   Another name on the Knight Band roster was “Elijah Welborn.”  In actuality, he was Elijah Welborn Laird—a son of Abraham Laird.  Adding yet another strand to this web of yeoman connections, Elijah would later marry Martha Welch. 

Captured by Col. Lowry’s troops on 25 April 1864, James and the others were shipped back to the 7th Battalion.  He, too, was captured by federal forces on 3 July 1864 and sent to Camp Morton, Indiana.  By this date, prisoner exchanges had largely ceased except for those in very poor health.  James Eulin seems to have fallen into this category, because he was selected for exchange on 19 February 1865.  However, he died at Piedmont, West Virginia, on 23 February 1865 while en route to the exchange point.  James and Mary Elizabeth had one daughter, Mahala Jane.  Mary Elizabeth’s efforts to cope with her post-war status as a Piney Woods widow will be the subject of a future article.

4)  MARTHA M. WELCH was born on 27 March 1846.  She married ELIJAH WELBORN LAIRD after the Civil War.  As noted, Elijah was the son of Abraham Laird whose family had adopted James Eulin.  Elijah enlisted in the 20th MS Infantry on 13 January 1863 and was listed as AWOL on 8 February of same year.  He is found under the name “Elija Welborn” on the roster printed in Thomas Knight’s book.  When Confederate forces moved into the area, he fled south and joined the 1st New Orleans Infantry as “Elijah Wilborn” on 30 April 1864.  He served until the regiment was disbanded on 1 June 1866 and then returned to Jones County where he married Martha M. Welch on 14 March 1867. 

Elijah moved his family to Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, around 1890.  He obtained a Union pension for an injury to his right hip.  His pension file documents that he died at the home of “S. Barnes” in Covington County, Mississippi on 31 March 1897 and was buried in the Barnes Cemetery (see Note 4).  Martha died on 21 September 1898 and was interred in the Provencal Cemetery, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.  At the time of her death, Martha was attempting to obtain a widow’s pension.  Although the couple left three minor children, they apparently never received any pension benefits.

5)  Born around 1847, FRANCES S. WELCH married PRENTICE M. BYNUM in 1866.  Prentice was the son of Benjamin F. Bynum and Margaret (“Peggy”) Collins.  When the first Confederate conscription law went into effect in 1862, Prentice was sixteen and so temporarily exempt.  Eighteen months later he joined the Knight Band.  In the aftermath of the Lowry campaign he enlisted in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.  Within six months he became seriously ill and entered University Hospital.  He was transferred to New York General Hospital on 1 April 1865 and discharged from McDougall Hospital on 20 May 1865. Prentice returned to Jones County and served as Clerk for the Jones County courts under the Reconstruction administration.  As noted, Frances died circa 1876.  Prentice re-married to Nancy C. Rawles in Perry County on 4 December 1878.  He moved to Marion and Lamar counties where he farmed and participated in Populist politics.  He died in Lamar County in 1906.

6)  The estate documents suggest that the deceased wife of HARRISON T. COLLINS was SAMANTHA EBOLINE WELCH, born circa 1849.  Harrison Collins, also born around 1849, apparently avoided conscription on account of his age.  As the son of Simeon Collins and grandson of Stacy Collins, however, Harrison belonged to Jones County’s most avowedly Unionist family.  Simeon Collins, like his brother Jasper, deserted the 7th Battalion following the Battle of Corinth and became a member of the Knight Band.  He was among those who surrendered to Lowry’s troops and were transferred back to the 7th Battalion—and then were captured at Kennesaw Mountain on 3 July 1864.  Along with two other sons, Simeon spent the remainder of the war in Camp Morton.  He was released under oath on 18 May 1865 but died soon thereafter. 

Harrison T. Collins would have been around sixteen years old when his father died.  The estate papers and census records suggest Samantha Eboline Collins’s death occurred circa 1876.  During this same time period Simeon’s widow Lydia (nee Bynum) and several of the sons moved to Texas, with Harrison among them.  He married twice more before dying in Polk County, Texas in 1936.

This inquiry into a single branch of the Welch family demonstrates the links between Civil War dissent and marriages within the Jones County yeoman class.  Rudy H. Leverett’s pioneering Legend of the Free State of Jones made a brief reference to kinship ties between the Knight Band and the surrounding population.  But Victoria Bynum’s Free State of Jones offered the first comprehensive exploration of these intricate kinships and the yeoman culture that set Jones County apart from much of the rest of Mississippi.  Among the early settlers she investigated were the Bynum, Collins, Knight, Sumrall, Valentine and Welch families.  Tracing nineteenth century female lines is, as any genealogist can tell you, far more difficult than tracing male lines.  County records of marriages, even when they were recorded, often fell victim to courthouse fires.  Without family Bible records or other documents, female lines often became lost.  Yet, the marriages of females tell an important half of the story—or, as in the case of these five daughters of James R. Welch—over 80% of it.

By simply recording the names of the men that the Welch daughters married, Prentice Bynum permitted us to unravel the extent of Unionist ties found among the older children of James R. Welch.  This is not to imply that exploring other Jones County female lines would invariably expose a similar preponderance of Unionist connections.  What can be said is that the records of the older children of James R. Welch demonstrate a web of anti-secessionist activities that rivals that of the Collins family.

But it is reasonable to question the relationship between war time dissent and the selection of marriage partners.  It seems highly unlikely that during their pre-war courtships Tabitha and Mary Elizabeth Welch—or Amanda Coats, who married William Welch—engaged in probing conversations to discern the attitudes of their suitors about slavery, states’ rights, and secession.  Unlike much of the antebellum South, these issues meant little to the yeoman herders of Jones County.  Slave-ownership was rare, the population widely dispersed, literacy rates low, and newspapers few.  Nor is it likely that Martha, Frances, or Samantha Welch accepted post-war marriage proposals based on their husbands’ Civil War records.  What seems more probable is that these young people belonged to a common yeoman culture; and that the Civil War brought a number of young men steeped in that culture into conflict with slave-owners, secessionists, and Confederate authorities of the larger South.

The records of the son and sons-in-law of James R. Welch demonstrate the shortcomings of attempts to depict the revolt in Jones County as emerging from the leadership of a single individual: Newt Knight.  This scenario has been put forth with Newt Knight assigned the role of  nefarious villain (Ethel Knight, Echo of the Black Horn) and, alternatively, socially enlightened hero (Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, State of Jones).  The limited records available to us suggest that Newt Knight was decisive, shrewd, and—if the circumstances required it—deadly.  There are situations in which such characteristics are highly esteemed, from bar fights to wars.  But unless we are prepared to grant Newt Knight the role of preeminent molder of antebellum Piney Woods society, the fallacy of applying a Great Man theory to events in Jones County becomes apparent.  Rather, research into the children of James R. Welch provides further evidence of the underlying cultural roots of Piney Woods dissent during the Civil War.

Notes:

 I would like to express my appreciation to Randall Kervin, whose inquiry about Mary Elizabeth Welch on “Renegade South” led me to explore the web of Unionist connections among the children of James Richard Welch.

 1)   Tax records indicate that James R. Welch’s grandfather, Richard Welch, arrived in Wayne County in 1813 with 2 slaves.  However, the Welch families of Jones County are recorded as owning no slaves from the time of the 1830 census forward.

 2)  Thomas J. Knight’s The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight, was first published in 1934.  The revised 1946 edition has recently been reprinted by Carolyn and Keith Horne of Laurel, MS.  Thomas Knight’s version of the Knight Band roster appears on pages 16-17.  The men captured by Col. Lowry’s troops on 25 April 1864 appear on pages 18-19.

 3)  Those members of the 7th Battalion MS Infantry, Co F, captured on 3 July 1864, who died while prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, Illinois, included Thomas N. Coats, William A. Lyons, Henry O. Parker, and William P. Valentine.

 4)  Census records suggest that “S. Barnes” was Sebastian Barnes, Elijah’s son-in-law.  He had married Elijah’s daughter Jena C. Laird in 1886.

Ed Payne

The following is the latest online review of my recent book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. I especially appreciate the careful and thorough analysis provided by Laura Hepp Bradshaw, a PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

http://www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf/bynum-the-long-shadow-of-the-civil-war-2010

Vikki Bynum

Although I have yet to meet Jonathan Odell in person, we have been friends for about three years, ever since we discovered that both of us were writing about Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones (click here for his views on that story). Jon’s first novel, The View From Delphi, is a great favorite of mine. His second novel, The Healing,  is forthcoming from Nan A. Talese/Doubleday in February, 2012, and promises to be a blockbuster. My review of it follows.

Vikki

Jonathan Odell’s second novel, The Healing, introduces readers to Gran Gran, the lonely inhabitant of an ancient, decayed mansion located on a former slave plantation. The old black midwife and folk doctor, once a vital presence in the surrounding community of Shinetown, is now dismissed and feared as a witch by Shinetown’s younger generation.

The story opens on a damp winter day in 1933 shortly after Gran Gran finds herself in charge of a young girl, Violet, whose mother has died following an abortion attempt. Gran Gran’s efforts to comfort Violet within the confines of the rambling old mansion—where many years ago she lived as the petted slave child of her deranged mistress, Amanda Satterfield—prepares Odell’s readers for a journey back to when this household vibrated with the laughter, tears, and hustle of slaves alongside the commands, demands, and recriminations of its master and mistress. Back then, Gran Gran—or Granada, as she was called—considered the indulgences of her white mistress as proof that she was above the “swamp slaves” who worked the fields. No harm, she thought, could ever come to a dark-skinned girl allowed to wear a white girl’s ruffles and ribbons, even if that dark-skinned girl was a slave.

Granada’s assumptions are soon challenged by the arrival of Shinetown’s first true healer, the extraordinary Polly Shine. The woman for whom Shinetown will eventually be named is purchased by Master Ben Satterfield in a desperate effort to save his field slaves from the ravages of disease.  Polly, a slave doctor of African and Indian ancestry, immediately sets tongues wagging among free and enslaved alike.  Her healing gifts, combined with her audacious manner and appearance (highlighted by a head scarf festooned with shiny metal disks that fringe her forehead), signal that life will never again be the same for those who live at Satterfield Plantation, whether in its Great House or its most distant and dismal slave quarters.   

Day-by-day in serial fashion Gran Gran tells Violet her life’s story, transporting her—and readers—back to the world of slavery. The tedium of field work, the dangers of swamp life, and the horrors of epidemic disease mark the lives of slaves, as do the personal triumphs, defeats, sorrows, and joys of daily life. Odell effectively contrasts the perspectives of the free and the unfree, showing their lives to be inextricably entangled. Like so many slaveholders, Master Ben prides himself on understanding the mental and physical characteristics of Africans that he believes have destined them for slavery; yet the institution that has brought slaveholders such great wealth has also brought Ben and Amanda Satterfield an equal measure of personal misery.

The women of Satterfield Plantation are The Healing’s centerpiece. Moving between present and past, Odell creates parallel relationships between adolescent girls and wise old women (Polly and Granada, Gran Gran and Violet) in which motherhood—its joys and its sorrows—is a recurring theme. Whether addressing the slaveholding regime of the antebellum South or the hard-bitten segregated society of twentieth-century Mississippi, Odell places women’s reverence for motherhood alongside desperate acts of abortion driven by rape, coercive sexual liaisons, and economic impoverishment. 

Gran Gran’s efforts to revive Violet’s spirit by telling her the story of Shinetown forces her to confront painful events of her own life—the loss of her mother, her failure of nerve in the presence of so great a force for freedom as Polly Shine, her years as Shinetown’s doctor. Happily, Violet does not remain the passive recipient of Gran Gran’s hard-won wisdom. Readers will delight in the manner in which she becomes the vehicle for the remembrance and reconciliation of past hurts that allows Gran Gran’s own deadened spirit to soar, and which provides the book’s final message of hope.

Victoria Bynum

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